October is Fraud and Financial Awareness Month. For this reason, I think it is a great time to share with you some information about elder abuse and financial scams. As you know, our firm assists a lot of older or vulnerable adults and we enjoy being able to help protect individuals and families from harm. Over the next few weeks, I will introduce the topic of elder abuse and discuss who is at risk. I will also explain why older adults are often a target of abuse and the various types of scams used. Finally, I talk about what to watch for and some ideas on how you can protect those around you.
How common is elder abuse in America?
There are higher rates of elder abuse in the United States than in most countries. The National Council on Aging reported that about 10% of older Americans have experienced some form of elder abuse, with many of the victims exploited more than once. Unfortunately, a high percentage of these crimes go unreported. Therefore it is estimated that only 1 in 24 instances of abuse are actually reported. Understandably, these are alarming statistics!
[A] single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person. This type of violence constitutes a violation of human rights and includes physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse; financial and material abuse; abandonment; neglect; and serious loss of dignity and respect.
Who is at risk for elder abuse?
Many older adults experience medical conditions that can lead to a reliance on a larger network of people to assist with day-to-day activities. This leaves the elder exposed to more opportunities for elder abuse. Unfortunately, this is all too common. Many of us have heard stories about friends and family members being victims. Below is a list of those who are at higher risk for elder abuse:
Individuals who live with mental or physical disabilities.
An elder who lives with someone who is financially dependent on, emotionally disconnected with or resentful of the vulnerable adult.
Socially isolated individuals.
An elder who lacks familial connections or financial means.
Elders who live in institutions or long-term care facilities.
Do you know an aging person who has been exploited or neglected?
Can you think of an instance where an elderly person in your network has been taken advantage of? Is someone in your family receiving phone calls demanding them to pay back taxes? Has a relative suddenly started dating a prince overseas?
These situations are just a fraction of the examples of elder abuse. The rest of the posts this month will go over the most common ways elders are financially exploited, how to spot tricky behavior from others, and what to do if you or someone you care about is a victim.
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There are many ways that seniors are preyed upon by scammers. Some ways are more common than others. In each instance, a scammer seeks to gain control of the elderly person’s finances or property for their own benefit. However, in order to stop fraud, it’s important to know the specifics. The following post will discuss how to help your aging parents avoid scams and fraud.
Educate Seniors About Suspicious Phone Calls
Swindlers often cold-call seniors to get personal information. Here are a few common phone scams you can look out for:
Inform your elder to be suspicious of phone calls stating that they have “won” a sweepstakes. These scams will try to get the senior to provide bank account information for direct deposit. They may also try to convince the senior to send a check to pay for the taxes on their “winnings”.
In this scam, an elder will receive a call from someone stating that they are a grandchild who is in trouble and in need of help. When the senior answers the phone they will hear something like this: “Grandma, it’s me… please don’t tell my parents.” The caller will then claim they are out of town and need to be wired money to make bail or to pay for travel expenses. Have a discussion with your loved ones about what to do if they receive a phone call like this. Many families create a “code word” for everyone to use. If the scammer doesn’t know the code word, then they are not who they say they are. A code word is a quick and effective way to vet emergency phone calls.
Voter registration scams
The voter registration scam is when someone calls about registering the elder to vote, asking for their address, birthday, Social Security Number, or a password or PIN code.
An elder may get a call offering discounts on health insurance or a call from someone claiming they work for the government and need a Medicare number or Social Security Number to issue a new card.
How to Help Seniors Avoid Being Scammed on the Telephone
We cannot stress how important it is to encourage seniors to never give out their personal information to strangersover the phone. Even if the people on the phone are claiming to be friends or loved ones!This is one of the best ways you can help your seniors avoid getting scammed. If your loved one is getting an exorbitant amount of phone calls from people they don’t know, consider asking them if you can change the settings on their phone to only allow notifications from numbers already found in their contacts.
If you suspect your aging parent has already been a victim of a fraud crime, report it to the National Elder Fraud Hotline 833–FRAUD–11. This hotline is a free resource created by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office for Victims of Crime for people to report fraud against anyone age 60 or older.
Help Aging Parents Avoid Scams by Talking Openly About Finances
Ask your aging parents if they would consider allowing you to join them on their next visit to financial advisors, accountants, attorneys, and other important service providers. If you are welcome to join them, you will have a unique opportunity to prove to the providers your relationship and good intentions towards the senior. If the service provider believes that you have the senior’s best interest at heart, they may contact you when and if they believe something suspicious is going on with your loved one’s accounts.
We must warn you that becoming too involved in a loved one’s financial life may create the appearance of undue influence. It is important to help keep loved ones from being exploited, but you also don’t want to find yourself the subject of a lawsuit claiming that you are the one committing financial exploitation. Please be careful in how you approach discussing finances with the seniors in your life.
Stay Up to Date on Changes Made to Their Estate Plan
Check to see if a non-relative has been included as a representative or beneficiary, or if any relatives have been cut out of the estate plan since the last time you reviewed it. There may be perfectly reasonable explanations for these changes. However, they could also indicate that someone is trying to manipulate your loved one.
Ask Your Senior About Caretakers or Sudden “Best Friends“
These developments could be a sign that someone is trying to work their way into an elder’s life in order to exploit them, financially or otherwise. It might seem innocent enough (and even generous!) for a new friend to “hang out” with an elder and take care of their medical and financial needs. But because of the potential for abuse, we recommend hiring caregivers through a reputable agency. Obtain reviews and make sure they have the proper licensure and training.
Making new friends and meeting people is fine, and even encouraged to minimize the isolation that many older adults face. However, it’s important to communicate with your loved ones to make sure they are not giving un-vetted people undue control over their life.
Investigate Sudden Missing Items or Extravagant New Purchases
It is important to talk with your elderly loved ones about finances so that, if they consent, you can regularly review their statements and stay up to date on other financial developments. One easy way to do this is to have the senior grant you view-only access to their bank accounts. You may also consider a paid subscription monitoring app such as EverSafe or LifeLock. These companies provide constant monitoring for any unusual activity on the accounts. This makes preventing suspicious transactions much easier.
Make sure to ask questions about weird financial transactions. Have there been any large cash transfers? Vehicles suddenly missing or new ones showing up unexpectedly? Heirloom household items that have disappeared? Fancy or expensive new gadgets showing up that are out of character for your loved one to buy? This can indicate that someone has convinced the elder to give them assets or that they have duped the elder into buying something they don’t need.
Recruit Friends, Family, Social Groups, and Neighbors to Keep a Watchful Eye on Your Senior
Keep an open dialogue with neighbors, friends, and advisors who are connected with your aging loved ones. The more people you have looking out, the less likely it is that someone can take advantage of them without your knowledge. Elder abuse is less likely when a senior has a variety of people checking in on them.
A Strong Estate Plan Can Help Aging Parents Avoid Scams
Finally, encourage your aging parents to meet privately with an experienced Elder Law Attorney to determine what they can do to protect themselves from bad actors. Having a legal document in place naming a trusted advisor, or agent, to help handle finances can protect them. An experienced Elder Law Attorney also knows what questions to ask and the warning signs to look for in suspected elder exploitation.
Other Ways You Can Help Aging Parents Avoid Scams
The main point you should take away is that it’s important to have an open dialogue with your aging parents about the variety of scam tactics out there. Send your loved ones this article about how to protect themselves. It has a lot of great tips that can be implemented right away.
Do you want help creating a Financial Power of Attorney or other legal support? Give us a call. You can schedule your free 15-minute Initial Call online. It’s easy! We are here to help.
Elder fraud and financial exploitation have become an epidemic. As a Nashville elder law attorney, I am seeing more than ever before, con artists and family members alike taking advantage of their elderly relatives, friends, or neighbors. The numbers have only gotten worse with the Covid-19 pandemic and a larger aging population.
The best defense against elder fraud is having caring friends or family with the senior’s best interests at heart. But those friends and family can only prevent elder fraud if they know how to spot it.
What is Elder Fraud?
Broadly defined, elder fraud is when someone improperly (or illegally) uses or steals a vulnerable senior’s assets. Every state has a different definition of “elder fraud” or “financial exploitation” of an elderly person. In Tennessee, financial exploitation of elders or other vulnerable adults can be prosecuted under criminal and civil laws. Edler fraud is a form of Elder Abuse.
The 3 Common Financial Scams that Victimize Seniors
A recent survey identified the three most common scenarios of financial exploitation:
Theft or diversion of funds or property by family members.
Diversion of funds or property by caregivers.
Financial scams perpetrated by strangers.
In the two most common scenarios of financial exploitation, the fraud is committed by someone who knows the elderly person. Most people think of fraud as emails from Nigerian princes or telephone scams. In reality, however, financial exploitation is commonly perpetrated by family and friends.
Another common misconception is that adults are only susceptible to elder fraud if they have a condition that can affect memory and reasoning skills. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 15-20% of elders 65 and older have some type of mild cognitive impairment. But it is important to recognize that any senior can fall victim to elder fraud, and many do.
How Can I Help a Senior Avoid Being Scammed?
There are a number of things you can do to help prevent your loved one from being taken advantage of. Start by educating them on the tell-tale signs of elder fraud and how to protect themselves.
Most importantly, if you are concerned that a loved one is being targeted by a financial predator or a loved one with bad intentions, you should seek help as soon as possible. That may mean calling the police, your loved one’s attorney, and in some cases, even the FBI.
As an Elder Law Attorney in Nashville, I am here to guide you through any of the issues that you may be facing. To schedule an appointment, simply call schedule a free 15-minute Initial Call and we’ll see if we can provide you with some guidance on what to do to help you avoid common scams that victimize seniors.